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A Day in the Life of a Royal Danish Ballet
by Kate Snedeker
many people the life of a ballet dancer remains somewhat of a mystery;
a distant world of rehearsal
studios and classes.
Though so little understood
by most ballet-goers, this offstage existence makes up most of a dancer’s
life, as performances are but a small fraction of the hours a dancer puts
in each week. Following is a brief background on the Royal Danish Ballet
and a glimpse into its dancers' world when they are not on stage.
Currently, there are approximately 90 dancers in the Royal Danish Ballet,
including 7 apprentices from the School of the Royal Danish Ballet and
12 character dancers. About three quarters of the dancers are Danish,
with the other nationalities represented including Sweden , Poland (3),
France (2), Great Britain (5), United States (3), New Zealand (2), Russia
(2), Hungary , Canada , Mexico , Australia and Belgium .
All of the Danish dancers were trained at the School of the Royal Danish
Ballet, though a few like Kenneth Greve and Julien Ringdahl, spent time
at other ballet schools and danced with other companies prior to returning
to Denmark . Most started at the RDB School between the ages of 7 and
11, training for up to ten years before starting a two or three year apprenticeship
at the age of 16.
Increasingly, however, dancers are entering the company from other ballet
schools and companies. Christopher Rickert, an Australian who trained
in New Zealand , came to the attention of artistic director Frank Andersen
at the 2003 New York International Ballet Competition, and he successfully
auditioned for the company in February 2004. Americans Amy Watson, Ellen
Green and Meaghan Spedden all came via the School of American Ballet ,
having been exposed to the RDB either during summer exchanges between
the two ballet schools and/or through former RDB dancers now dancing or
teaching at the New York City Ballet. Principals Martin James, Jean-Lucien
Massot and Marie-Pierre Greve all came to RDB after successful careers
with other companies.
The character dancers are a vital part of the Royal Danish Ballet. Most
transitioned from the dancing ranks when they turned 40, the age at which
Danish dancers start receiving a pension, though some have returned after
time teaching or dancing elsewhere. These dancers take on the numerous
non-dancing roles that are vital in much of the repertory, especially
the Bournonville ballets.
By maintaining the character dancer ranks, the company retains older dancers
who not only have the experience and time to nurture the character roles,
but also provide an important link with the past, keeping alive the character
roles and teaching them to the younger dancers. Many of the character
dancers also teach in the school, help coach and/or stage ballets.
The company offices and studios are on the fourth and fifth floors of
the extensive Royal Theater complex. Both the company and school share
the studios, with most school classes taking place early in the morning
before the company day begins. Gamle Scene (Old Stage) down on the 1st
floor, where most dance performances take place, is also the main stage
for the opera and other musical concerts.
The Dancer’s Day
A normal week runs Monday through Saturday, though every year there are
several Sunday matinee performances. Each day begins at 10am with an hour
and half company class, which serves as a chance for dancers to slowly
warm up their muscles and work on their ballet technique. Usually, the
men and women are divided into their own classes, both to allow for focus
on specifics of male or female technique and also to allow the dancers
more space in the studio.
Company class is often taught by someone from within the company, but
may also be taught by a guest teacher. Every class begins with barre work,
with the same basics familiar to ballet students of all levels. Though
each teacher has their own style and preferred step sequences, the same
basic steps are always there, for instance plie, tendu, developpe, ronde
de jambe etc. After about 45 minutes, the barres are pushed aside to allow
for center work. Much like the barre work, center work begins relatively
simply and builds up to the more complicated, often ending with short
excerpts from Bournonville or other ballets. While almost all the women
do center in pointe shoes, many choose to use soft ballet slippers for
After class, rehearsals and other performance related activities fill
the rest of the dancers’ day. The company makes use of five rehearsal
studios, as well as running stage rehearsals on Gamle Scene. Up to four
ballets may be rehearsed at any one time, with multiple casts for each,
and rehearsals may occur simultaneously in 2-4 studios with groups ranging
from one dancer to almost the entire company. Thus, scheduling of rehearsals
is a complicated and never-ending task, with changes occurring frequently.
Rehearsals begin at noon and may last until anywhere from 3:30 to 6:15pm
, depending on the needs of the performance schedule. Each rehearsal can
be as short as half an hour for something like last-minute coaching on
a new role, or as long as three hours (with break) for a full run through
of and corrections on a new ballet. When full makeup and costumes are
required, it means an even earlier start. The schedule varies each day,
and is usually different for each dancer in the company.
Rehearsals come in many shapes and sizes. In the rehearsal studios, new
choreography may be created and old choreography taught to new dancers
or refreshed in the minds of more experienced dancers. Corps members and
apprentices often watch, even if they have not been cast in a certain
ballet, as they may be expected to fill in if injuries or illness deplete
ballet is given a dress rehearsal to allow for checks of staging, sets,
costumes and music. However, since the company shares the stage with the
opera and concerts, rehearsals may occur well before an actual performance,
and every cast may not get a full run through. Preparations for a new
ballet may entail long rehearsals, often repeating a certain scene or
section multiple times in order to fine tune staging, cues, spacing, choreography,
scene and prop changes, as well as coordination with the conductor and
orchestra. Ballets already in the repertory are given a touching up before
each performance run, requiring less intensive time on the stage unless
there are major role debuts.
Rehearsals are not the only thing happening in studios during the day.
A Bournonville class, often taught by principal dancer Thomas Lund, is
given each day for apprentices, new non-Danish company members and other
selected dancers. And though they also take company class, the apprentices
have their own class each afternoon. Also, with preparations for the 2005
Bournonville Festival underway, filming for the Bournonville Class DVDs
may occupy a studio. A few school classes also take place later in the
day, usually gymnastics for the boys or a second daily class for students
in the advanced levels.
Besides rehearsals and classes, dancers also have costume fittings, photo
shoots, physiotherapy sessions, the occasional interview, and the never-ending
job of washing dance clothes and preparing new shoes. Danish stores close
by 6pm during the week, 2pm on Saturdays and are closed all day on Sundays,
so free time between rehearsals may be the only time to get errands done.
Several dancers also teach in ballet school classes and/or help to stage
and coach ballets in the repertory.
The company performs late August through May, usually 2 or 3 times per
week. During that time the company may also be on tour, where the schedule
must accommodate the demands of different facilities and stages.
Non-performing nights give the dancers a chance to rest and catch up with
friends, family and errands. For performance nights, dancers must get
an early meal and be back for makeup, costumes and warm-up before the
8pm performance (or later if they are not dancing in an earlier act).
Corps members usually dance in every performance, though principals may
perform only once or not at all in any given week.
10am -11:30 am: company class in main studio
12: 05 – 2:00 pm : rehearsal for new ballet in main studio
2: 20 – 3:50 pm : rehearsal for part in existing ballet in another studio
4: 15 – 5:45pm : Bournonville class
Edited by Holly Messitt
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